Sunday, March 5, 2017

Not a Real Religion?

American liberals like to talk about how progressive Canada is compared to the United States. In some respects this is true, but religious freedom is apparently not one of them. According to this article from Patheos, Wicca, Paganism, and other polytheistic religions like Hinduism have no religious rights at all. They are not recognized by the government, so they are not considered "real religions." This has all sorts of legal implications, from a lack of protection under hate crime statues to no legal recognition as charitable religious organizations.

So essentially, in terms of Canadian law what you have is akin to the situation that Dominionists are pushing for here - a sort of de facto "Christian supremacy" in which they can get away with whatever they want as long as they are going after members of minority religions. The article covers the case of Dominique Smith, the owner of a metaphysical shop catering to Pagans and other occultists in Winnipeg. Christians have targeted the shop since it opened and have vandalizing the place with seeming impunity. But because of the dubious status of Pagan religions in Canada, police have apparently been hesitant to take action.

Dominique’s window has been broken three times since she opened her shop six years ago. She is just a small store owner, trying to serve a small but visible community in Manitoba. She can’t afford to replace her windows, which cost thousands of dollars, every year. If the bullies who are attacking her store are trying to drive her out of business because they don’t like what she’s selling, they’re succeeding. The Winnipeg Police Department told CBC that to them, a hate crime involving property would require the commission of the mischief to be based on bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin. But Dominique can’t get equal protection under the law because, apparently, witchcraft is not a real religion. Canada still has laws on the books about “defrauding people with witchcraft.”

In many ways, Canada is a very progressive country. But in some ways it’s deploringly backward. For instance, did you know that there is no Pagan faith organization that is officially recognized as a Religious Charity by the Canadian federal government? Religious Charities get a variety of tax breaks under the law; but more importantly, they cannot be denied access on the basis of religion. And there are other benefits that are subtle and not well-known. For instance, the clergy of any recognized Religious Charity are welcomed as Chaplains in the Canadian Armed Forces. This was a career path I seriously considered, but that’s when I found out that you had to be part of a recognized Religious Charity to do it. The Wiccan Church of Canada has been trying for this recognition for more than thirty years. Incidentally, the Hindu Cultural Society in Vancouver doesn’t have this status either. No polytheistic religion, to my knowledge, does.


It should go without saying that as an American, I find this case completely ridiculous and awful. It shows exactly how the American Dominionists would treat all of us if they could somehow strip our legal protections, and it also shows how Canada's laws fail religious minorities. The facile claim that "witchcraft is not a religion" is entirely incoherent - "witchcraft" is spellcasting, a technology, whereas Wicca and Paganism are both very clearly religions. It is in fact completely reasonable to have a law against fraudulent spellcasters and still recognize the religious rights of Wiccans and Pagans.

To show how far the American version of religious freedom is from that of Canada, even Neil Gorsuch, considered a very conservative Supreme Court nominee, appears to have an absolute interpretation of "sincere religious beliefs." This is why conservative Christians like him so much, but it should be pointed out that as far as I can tell it cuts both ways. His ruling in the Little Sisters of the Poor case basically said that it doesn't matter how stupid anybody thinks it is to imagine that signing a form declaring your religious beliefs is a violation of your religious rights, that was what the Little Sisters believed so the government had to accommodate them.

As for these so-called Christians vandalizing Smith's shop, it seems to me that they need to go back and study what their religion teaches some more. Breaking windows, other forms of vandalism, and personal threats against people who believe differently is so far from the teachings of Jesus that it amazes me that these people can think clearly enough to even function in the real world. I suppose they're like the American version of the Poor Oppressed Christians - such entitled whiny babies that the mere existence of other beliefs fundamentally threatens their faith. As I've point out many times here, if your faith can be threatened by any disagreement, what good is it?

It also seems to me that if you are a Pagan of some sort talking about moving to Canada in the wake of Donald Trump's election, you may want to rethink that. It's reasonable to fear the possible implementation of special rights, privileges, and legal protections for Christians, but it sounds like Canadian Christians already have them.

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